Cooper is no stranger to success

EUGENE- Hitting among the top five in the Northwest League with a .353 batting average and having reached base safely in his first 17 professional games, Craig Cooper, the Padres' 7th round selection of this year's draft, has adjusted well to the Class-A short-season life of the Eugene Emeralds.

Craig Cooper, a native of Plainview, NY, is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound outfielder turned first baseman that throws left and bats right. He made the position switch this spring, after three successful seasons at Notre Dame under his belt. But he didn't miss a beat then, and hasn't missed a beat yet with his new team and new organization.

Cooper started his career in the Padres organization with a bang, smacking a homerun in the Emeralds first game of the season versus the Boise Hawks, and hasn't looked back since. Accompanying his high batting average, are a .457 on-base percentage (OBP) and .471 slugging percentage (SLP) that have made him an integral part of the strong Emerald offense that is first in the NWL in runs and second in hits, homeruns, and batting average. Cooper is currently in the top ten in the league in hits (24) and RBIs (12), and his on-base percentage is second best.

"I've just been trying to continue what I've been doing all spring," says Cooper. "It's been a blast, getting to play with a good bunch of guys in a great stadium, great city and I'm really enjoying it."

"He's a tremendous player," said Emeralds manager Doug Dascenzo. "Craig's been an outstanding defensive player and he's brought a lot of bat to the organization and to the club."

Cooper, who is the Big East all-time hits leader, is no stranger to enjoying success in the batter's box. He's coming off a very successful four years at the University of Notre Dame, which ended this year with a senior season that was good enough to give him the nod on several All-America teams as well as be named the Big East Player of the Year, and a semifinalist spot for the Brooks Wallace Award, given to the best college baseball player in the nation.

As he helped lead the Fighting Irish to the top of the Big East standings and earn a berth in the NCAA playoffs during his 2006 campaign, Cooper hit for a personal best .425 batting average giving him his third straight Big East batting title.

Along with his average, which was the sixth best in the nation, Cooper had a .522 OBP and a .654 SLP, making him an ideal numbers player for Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics' general manager that is credited with "Moneyball" and its emphasis on OBP and SLP. At one point during the season he tied a Notre Dame record with a 21-game hit streak while the team won 23 straight.

Cooper was the toughest player to strikeout in the nation in 2006, averaging a strikeout only once every 16.3 at-bats (14 in 228 at-bats) and his 1.39 runs per game average was also best in the nation (79 in 57 games). The Irish went 0-2 in the 2006 Lexington regional, losing to the College of Charleston 5-4 in a 16-inning heartbreaker, and then 10-4 to Kentucky the next day. Cooper went 4-for-10, with two walks in the games.

As a senior, he earned 2nd team All-American honors from Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Magazine, and 3rd team for the Collegiate Baseball Writers, as well as being named to the College Baseball Foundation's 30-Player All America team.

Asked about his senior season, Cooper doesn't focus on what he achieved, saying simply: "Oh, it was awesome. Definitely a great senior year, they [his teammates] were a great group of guys."

His success in baseball can be seen as far back as little league when he played for the 1995 U.S. Team in the World Baseball Tournament. As a member of the team, he got the chance to travel to Finland and Beijing, China. There, Cooper was able to play ball and see how other countries "took on baseball."

In high school, Cooper was named the best player in New York State by Baseball America. In his first three years at Notre Dame as an outfielder, Cooper hit .332, with a .443 OBP and .514 SLP. His sophomore season Cooper became the first player ever to lead the Big East in conference batting average (.425), OBP (.545), and SLP (.712). That same year he also had the best conference OPS, with 1.257. More importantly than all his success, Cooper also learned some valuable lessons in college.

"The biggest adjustment for me was adapting to failure," said Cooper, who refused to talk much about his success. "When I was a freshmen in college, it's a big adjustment facing college pitching. Guys are three to four years older and have the experience. Knowing I can compete with them and if I fail once, it's not an over and over thing. Just learning to get it past you and keep playing."

Cooper has done just that for the Emeralds, helping them become the offensive powerhouse that they are this season. But even all the success, he's had to deal with adjusting to the lifestyle that comes with leaving the college scene behind and beginning a professional career. One stat that is unlike Cooper's baseball personae is the ten strikeouts he's had in his first 59 at-bats.

"It's a little bit of an adjustment coming out here and playing every single day and playing with wood bats," said Cooper, who along with Ems team, has had little time for practice or time to stay physically strong during the week with their long bus rides and late nights. "It's definitely a mental grind. But it's a lot of fun."

Cooper has become a leader on the field for the Emeralds with his stellar defense and strong hitting. When asked to compare his game to another player, Cooper laughed and sidestepped. "I don't really know who I'd compare myself with," he said with a smile. "I would just say I'm ultra competitive and love the competition part of the game. The one on one with the pitcher… every at bat is a battle. I don't want to give any ground; they don't want to give any ground either. I just want to go out there and give everything I got every night." Cooper's keen batting eyes grow wider as he becomes excited about just the idea of being on the field.

Cooper is one of a number of players who has brought the leadership he developed with his college program into the Ems clubhouse. "And that's a good thing," admits Dascenzo. "Because when you combine them together and they all start working together, it's great to have."

No player has made it to the Major Leagues by comparing himself to another player or relying on past success, and Cooper seems to know that. He keeps his focus on what is coming next and what he needs to do to keep achieving.

"I know this," says Dascenzo, "if something happens out there on the field, he's always ready for the next play or the next at-bat."

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